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Doug Parrow, 13-year veteran of BTA Board, resigns

Posted by on December 28th, 2010 at 3:16 pm

Doug Parrow speaking for the BTA at
the 2010 Oregon Bike Summit.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Doug Parrow has resigned from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) Board of Directors after 13 years. Parrow was the longest serving board member in the organization’s history and also served as Chair of the BTA’s Legislative Committee.

“I realized that the organization… wasn’t going to achieve the kind of statewide goals I had anticipated and worked toward.”
— Doug Parrow

Reached by phone this morning at his home in Keizer (near Salem), Parrow said he decided to leave the BTA because of what he sees as their increasingly Portland-centric perspective. “I realized that the organization, at least in my mind, wasn’t going to achieve the kind of statewide goals I had anticipated and worked toward. As a person from Keizer, I asked myself, why am I burning energy and time participating in discussions of bicycling in Portland?”

Parrow said he appreciates what Portland has done for bicycling, but it’s just not his priority. When he first got involved with the board in 1997, he perceived a “real commitment” to becoming a statewide organization, but feels like “for whatever reason, that just hasn’t happened.” Parrow now says he’s talking among Salem-area advocates about how best to work on bicycling issues. Those advocates, he says, “Have expressed disappointment that they see themselves somewhat cut loose by the organization.”

“In my mind, what’s changed is that the BTA won’t be soliciting members from outside the metro area and members from outside the area ought not really expect an organizational commitment to support and encourage their advocacy efforts… Rather than seeing ourselves as BTA members trying to advocate locally, I think we probably are going to see ourselves as affiliated with some other organization for local advocacy.”

BTA Executive Director Rob Sadowsky said he suspected Parrow was at the end of his service as a board member, but his resignation letter was still a bit unexpected. Sadowsky said during recent conversations about the BTA’s future (as part of their strategic planning process), “It seemed like we [Parrow and the BTA] were diverging a bit… And from my conversations with other people on the Board it’s been happening slowly over time.”

Parrow at a news conference on
the Vehicular Homicide Bill in June 2008.

Is the BTA headed toward a more Portland-centric future like Parrow envisions? Sadowsky says changes are definitely coming, but he maintains that the organization is not planning to officially give up their statewide role.

From Sadowsky’s perspective, the BTA is in the midst of “some exciting conversations” about their future and the question of how to best play a statewide role is part of them. “The things we’re talking about are being very strategic about where we do our work and being clear about what we do and don’t do statewide.”

According to Parrow, recent board discussions have made it clear to him that, “There has been at best a lack of interest in moving the statewide focus forward.” He also feels that the idea of the BTA becoming a metro and regional organization, “Have really been on the table and seriously discussed.”

Both Sadowsky and Parrow acknowledge that being effective as a statewide bicycle advocacy group is a challenging proposition. While Parrow wants a stronger statewide focus, he also admits that it might not be possible. “It may be a model that isn’t viable. My inability and the inability of the board over the course of the last 13 years to really make the statewide vision a reality hints at the difficulty of doing so.”

“One thing we have a problem with is that we are perceived outside of Portland as being too Portland-centric, but inside Portland, we’re seen as being not Portland enough. We can never do right by everyone.”
— Rob Sadowsky

Parrow’s vision was to have BTA members in all corners of Oregon so that ground troops could be called upon whenever an issue or legislation heated up. While it sounds great, most of the country’s top advocacy groups have a metro-area or regional focus and it’s hard to find highly effective statewide organizations.

Sadowsky says when it comes to the statewide versus Portland question, the BTA just can’t win. “The problem with that [Parrow’s vision] is we really don’t have the resources to be everywhere, so we get weak by trying to be strong everywhere. One thing we have a problem with is that we are perceived outside of Portland as being too Portland-centric, but inside Portland, we’re seen as being not Portland enough. We can never do right by everyone.”

Parrow has been a fixture for BTA’s in Salem, where he’s guided their legislative efforts for years. He says his opinion and the conventional wisdom of the Legislative Committee has always been that a statewide membership base was needed to pass important bills. “I continue to believe that’s the case, but at the same time, I don’t know; we’ll see how that plays out.”

Parrow, a retiree who formerly worked for the Oregon Water Resources Department, had much more experience than anyone else at the organization. Of the 19 remaining board members, only two five have been there longer than three years (Susan Otcenas, Jeff Knapp, and Nancy Pautsch (2007), Mary Roberts (2006), Mary Fetsch (2003)) .

“It’s going to be hard to replace someone like Doug,” noted Sadowsky, “We don’t have a large history base at the BTA and that’s the thing we’ll miss the most.”

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  • BURR December 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm

    The BTA started out as a Portland-centric organization. I personally thought the statewide expansion circa the late 90s was ill advised and premature, and I’m glad to see that the BTA will be refocusing their efforts on the Portland Metro area.

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  • random rider December 28, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    I agree that they shouldn’t try to spread themselves too thin with the limited resources they have. However, is it really fair to have a state-wide vehicle license plate option that funnels money to a Portland only organization?

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    • are December 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm

      proceeds from the share the road plate also benefit cycle oregon. also, there are several plates that benefit specific colleges, including two private colleges, one of which is church affiliated.

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  • Gerik December 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I want to thank Doug for his years of dedicated service to the BTA. I have enjoyed working with him very much and appreciate his continued support during his transition out of a leadership role on the BTA’s legislative efforts.

    In the coming months, the BTA will continue to work on our statewide legislative agenda, focusing on safety and building stronger relationships with legislators and coalition partners.

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  • Todd Boulanger December 28, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    Parrow – thank you for your years of service. I hear your pain.

    Perhaps as part of this visioning exercise – it may help if Rob were to make a grand tour of the region – put faces to names, eye balls on conditions, hands on local legislative hands, etc. Since he is a new asset to the BTA and the state. The Washington Bike Alliance did something similar by bike 3 years ago.

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    • matthew vilhauer December 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm

      you mean the BAW? i make no apologies to giving these folks my money. if the BTA wants to be a regional player they would do well to consider supporting issues outside those of portland.

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    • matthew vilhauer December 28, 2010 at 10:56 pm

      where are we at with “bike me vancouver”? is it “bike leah vancouver”?

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  • Andrew December 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    I want to also thank Doug for his years of service to Oregon’s bike community. I don’t know him personally, but it definitely sounds like he’ll be missed at the BTA.

    And I hope the BTA doesn’t try to convert back to a local/regional group. Then we’ll just have an increase in Portland-area legislators pandering to them back home and then doing nothing in Salem, as if there wasn’t enough of that already.

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  • are December 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    obviously BTA is still in the early stages of its visioning whatsis, but i would think that a statewide coalition of local and regional advocacy groups would be more effective in the long run. sounds like doug is already engaging in his part of the state. this kind of thing would allow BTA to focus on regional issues and still have a voice — but not the only cycling advocacy voice — in salem. and the coalition effort would not be perceived as portland-centric.

    enjoyed working with you, doug. hope you are able to put something together in salem.

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  • mark ginsberg December 28, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I also want to thank Doug. I had the honor of serving on the BTA Board with him. Doug has helped the BTA immensely with legislative efforts and so much more. I don’t think Doug is going to stop advocating for cyclists, but he will still be missed from my view as a BTA member.
    Thanks for everything Doug, I look forward to seeing what you do next.

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  • Ethan December 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    Great piece Jonathan.

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  • Jeff Bernards December 28, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I don’t want the BTA to just promote cycling in Portland. It might make cycling a “Portland” thing and ignore the potential to “connect” (bike routes) the rest of the state, if we have a foot in every community. I approached the BTA to take over the “Protect Your World”, the low to no cost bicycle helmet program. I thought going to Bend, Medford & Klamath Falls with helmets would attract new bike riders and reach potential new members. It would have been easy to find sponsors, Hospitals, Nike, ETC. Giving the BTA a presence in all of Oregon. It didn’t happen, but it still can.
    P.S. Thanks Doug (13 years is a long time!)

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    • matthew vilhauer December 28, 2010 at 11:08 pm

      just a fantastic idea. i’m sure this can be made a reality. it’s just plain old intuitive thinking and common sense.

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  • Daniel December 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    Hope he finds time to actually bide bike.

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    • Jeremy December 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm

      He always has. He’s a regular ride leader in the Salem Bicycle Club. He’ll be missed at the BTA, but there is a growing advocacy group in the Mid-Valley, so maybe there is a home there for his efforts.

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  • Susan Otcenas December 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm

    Many thanks to Doug Parrow for his years of dedicated service. It was truly a pleasure to work with him.

    Jonathan – would you please correct some factal errors in your article?

    – I’ve been on the board since October 2007, not 2006.

    – Mary Roberts joined the board in 2006.

    – Jeff Knapp and Nancy Pautsch were elected at the same time as I was – October 2007.

    So, I believe that makes 5 current board members with tenure exceeding 3 years.



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  • matthew vilhauer December 28, 2010 at 11:33 pm

    i would have gladly supported ( with $$$) a scott b. and michelle p. led bta that dealt with regional issues and not just those of portland. i don’t live in portland so if they want my $$$ please show me what i’ll get for my money.

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  • Lisa December 29, 2010 at 6:45 am

    When I stopped by the BTA table at Bike Craft the woman at the table asked me if I was a member of BTA. Told her I used to be but was not currently. When she asked why, I told her I could not figure out what BTA was doing, what the plan was or what the BTA wanted to be. Until that was clearer to me, I wouldn’t be sending my $$.

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  • beth h December 29, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Lisa — I wonder how many other lapsed BTA members are waiting for similar clarity from the organization? I think it’s good for the BTA to consider what it wants and needs to be in the future; but it needs to figure out where grass-roots bicycle activism fits into the organization’s big picture and then communicate that vision clearly and plainly. With Parrow’s departure and the reasons stated above it sounds like the BTA is still trying to figure things out.

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  • Alain December 29, 2010 at 7:37 am

    I don’t see why the BTA should be driving statewide discussions. Change will only come about through sustained efforts at the local level, which means those living/working in Salem, or Grants Pass-Medford-Ashland, or parts of Eastern Oregon should be working on issues in their own communities, running their own organizations and contributing to discussions at the state level. How would an organization based in Portland, staffed (almost) entirely by Portland residents be able to represent all of Oregon. It doesn’t add up.

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    • are December 29, 2010 at 9:29 am

      and this has probably always been the case, which is why it may make sense for BTA to focus its energies more locally and to help grow other local advocacy groups who can then join their energies in salem.

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    • matt picio December 29, 2010 at 11:36 am

      Some issues can only be tackled at the state level, like changes to the ORS, the establishment of a vehicular homicide law, changes in setting speed limits on local roads, or changes in motorist licensing and education requirements. So far, the BTA has been the primary bike-friendly organization advocating at the state level for issues which affect all communities. That role needs to be filled by someone regardless of where the BTA chooses to wield their influence. If not by the BTA, then some other organization will need to step up.

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  • Andy December 29, 2010 at 8:56 am

    I came to the same conclusion that Doug has when I sought advice from BTA on dealing with ODOT in southern Oregon. They weren’t interested. The legislative agenda recently announced is a dud from the perspective of someone outside Portland. I hope Doug will consider getting involved with an alliance of local bicycle groups from around the state to advocate for us.

    I think that folks in Portland don’t understand that Doug is right about how essential it is to have statewide support for a legislative agenda. The failure in the last session should have made that clear. But for that to happen, you have to establish legislative priorities that matter to people statewide.

    From the ODOT website:
    The department will credit the proceeds from “Share the Road” plates, less the department’s expenses, to the Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Cycle Oregon.

    Under the circumstances, this seems unfair.

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    • are December 29, 2010 at 9:27 am

      the legislative agenda announced recently was framed by a committee chaired by doug parrow. it is what it is, in a year in which the legislature does not intend to spend any new money.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) December 29, 2010 at 9:08 am

    A few folks have mentioned the BTA’s revenue from the Share the Road license plates. I asked them about this last year and here’s what I found out…

    The following comes from their communications director Margaux Mennesson:

    For fiscal year 2009 the BTA received $14,900 in proceeds and paid a fee of $2,600 to ODOT for the plates, so net proceeds totaled $12,300.

    The income is unrestricted. Last year it was used to offset department costs in Programs, which includes Eye to Eye, Bike Commute Challenge, Share the Road safety class, Eco Explorers, etc. This does not include our major Government Contract programs with PBOT (Safe Routes to School) and ODOT (Bike Safety, Ped Safety, Walk + Bike).

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  • matt picio December 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

    The real question is – “is the BTA focusing on the Portland METRO area, and not just Portland?” Ever since Emily Gardner left the organization, I haven’t seen BTA involvement in Multnomah County’s PBAC, Clackamas County’s PBAC, Milwaukie, Gresham, or Hillsboro. It’s entirely possible the BTA is present at some of the meetings regarding these locales, but we certainly rarely ever hear about them. Now that the inner city bikeways are fairly well-established, the connections to the outer part of the city and the suburbs are becoming more crucial. Where was BTA involvement when the “improvements” were made to Clackamas Town Center?

    Obviously the BTA can’t be everywhere – no organization can at any reasonable level of funding. But perhaps it’s time for the BTA to leverage the membership for volunteers to attend some of these meetings outside Portland proper and report back to the BTA on the meeting content, and issues that the BTA might like to look at more deeply.

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  • Kt December 29, 2010 at 10:26 am

    To me, a SouthWest Suburbs yuppie, the BTA has ALWAYS been about Portland. I found their supposed mission of statewide bicycle advocacy to be window dressing only– lip service, as it were.

    The BTA has not focused much outside of the Portland city limits for a long time.

    I applaud the BTA for re-thinking its mission statement.

    From my perspective, what’s needed is a true statewide cycling advocacy group in Salem, helping local advocacy groups (grassroots-level) get started with local efforts at cycling advocacy. The state is too big, too disparate for one organization based in Portland, with Portland-based employees and board members, to advocate for bikes in, without having the local communities and their bicycle committees do the on-the-ground stuff.

    I mean, even TIGARD was too far for the BTA to care about. Once Eugene and Beaverton got their own BACs going, the BTA added those towns as “worthy”, I guess, of advocacy efforts.

    Anyway. Mr Parrow, I congratulate you on your many years of volunteerism and service on behalf of the cycling community, and I wish you luck and fortune in your future pursuits.

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  • JM December 29, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Yeah, the license plate fee is all they are getting from me. I wonder why we get such chintzy plates. Just printed on thin aluminum. What ever happened to embossed steel plates? Doubt any collectors will be interested in them in twenty years. And with four letters they all look like vanity plates. Give us a real plate with revenue going to the state and use it statewide for cycling infrastructure and advocacy. BTA jumped the shark years ago.

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  • Jerry_W December 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Doug goes and that guy from Eugene stays……bad trade.

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  • Another Doug December 31, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks to all for the well wishes. I do intend to continue advocacy efforts–locally and at the state level through other venues.

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